Decolonizing the Canon Pt. 2 : Resources

A couple of years ago, I read Lynn Bolles article Telling the Story Straight: Black Feminist Intellectual Thought in AnthropologyMy main take away from Bolles’ article is that not only are minority scholars being faced with structural barriers in academia, but we also are less likely to be cited and referenced by other scholars—even more so for women of color. So for my introductory course with a decolonized reading list, I made an effort to seek out literature written by women, people of color, and from underrepresented minorities.

I stumbled on some really interesting readings (both in the traditional sense and in the new mediatic sense), and I’m sharing them here. The list includes articles, book chapters, Ted Talks, YouTube Videos, podcasts, and online resources like The Sociological Cinema (which actually was started in my graduate alma mater, The University of Maryland, College Park, and to which several colleagues and friends of mine contributed).

Here are some readings that I used for my class based on the thematic components of the discussion:

Readings:

  • Understanding the Contemporary World (Augé and Colleyn 2006:7-20)
  • The Behavioral Inheritance Systems (Jablonka and Lam b 2005:155-180)
  • Anthropologists and Other Friends (Deloria Jr. 1969)
  • The Puzzle (Handwerker 2009:15-35)
  • Body Ritual Among the Nacirema (Miner 1956)
  • Introduction: Partial Truths (Clifford 1986:1-26)
  • Why Indians Aren’t Celebrating The Bicentennial (Deloria Jr. 1999:199-205)
  • Another Look at Centuries-Long Hegemonic Practices (Williams 2010)
  • Brackette Williams, professor at the University of Arizona
  • Introduction: Out of Exile (Behar 1995:1- 29)
  • Ethnography as Politics (Harrison 1997:88-109)
    • Faye V. Harrison is a Professor of African American Studies and Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
  • Seeing Kali’s City As “Insiders”: Religious Diversity, Gender, Class, And Culture As “Textured” Learning For American Students (Samanta 2014)
  • The Centrality of Ethnography in the Study of Transnational Migration: Seeing the Wetland Instead of Swamp (Schiller 2003)
  • Living and Working in a War Zone: An Applied Anthropologist in Afghanistan (Omidian 2009)
  • The Circle and the Field (Agar 1994a:49-60)
  • Culture Blends (Agar 1994b:15-30)
  • Slippery Semantics (Godreau 2008)
    • Isar Godreau, Puerto Rican Anthropologist at the University of Puerto Rico
  • Migration, Return, and Development: an Institutional Perspective (Olesen 2002)
  • Gender Roles in Sociocultural and Historical Context (Schweitzer 2006:41-56)
  • Linguistic Anthropology in 2008: An Election-Cycle Guide (Faudree 2009)
  • Mass Media and Transnational Subjectivity in Shanghai: Notes on (Re)Cosmopolitanism in a Chinese Metropolis (Yang 2007:325-349)
    • Mayfair Yang 楊美惠教授 is an Anthropologist by training and professor at University of California Berkeley’s  Department of Religious Studies and Department of East Asian Languages & Cultural Studies.
  •  1-4 (Sontag 2001:5-37)
    • Susan Sontag was a writer, filmmaker, teacher and political activist.

Videos and Other Media

References

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi
2013 We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at Tedxeuston. http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/We-should-all-be-feminists-Chim, Accessed: August 8, 2014.

Agar, Michael
1994a Culture Blends. In Language Shock: Understanding the Culture of Conversation. Pp. 15-30: HarperCollins.—

1994b The Circle and the Field. In Language Shock: Understanding the Culture of Conversation. Pp. 49-60: HarperCollins.

Augé, Marc, and Colleyn, Jean-Paul
2006 The World of an Anthropologist. Howe, John, transl. Oxford, UK; New York, USA: Berg, Oxford International Publishers Ltd.

Behar, Ruth

1995 Introduction: Out of Exile. In Women Writing Culture. Behar, Ruth and Gordon, Deborah A., eds. Pp. 1-29: University of California Press.

Case, Amber
2010 We Are All Cyborgs Now. Ted.Com. http://www.ted.com/talks/amber_case_we_are_all_cyborgs_now?language=en, accessed October 1, 2014.

Clifford, J.
1986Introduction: Partial Truths. In Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of  Ethnography. Clifford, J. and Marcus, G.E., eds. Pp. 1-26: University of California Press.

Climate Reality
2012 Doubt. Video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhDacrl1aSA, Accessed: 8/30/2014.

Brooks, Iris and Davis, Jon H.,
2011 Languages Lost and Found: Speaking & Whistling the Mamma Tongue. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/1785489, Accessed: 9/1/2014.

Deloria Jr., Vine
1969 Anthropologists and Other Friends. In Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. University of Oklahoma Press.
1999 A Flock of Anthros. In Spirit & Reason: The Vine Deloria, Jr., Reader. Deloria Jr., Vine, Deloria, B., Foehner, K., and Scinta, S., eds. Pp. 123-126: Fulcrum Pub.—
1999 Why Indians Aren’t Celebrating the Bicentennial. In Spirit & Reason: The Vine Deloria, Jr., Reader. Deloria Jr., Vine, Deloria, B., Foehner, K., and Scinta, S., eds. Pp. 199-205: Fulcrum Pub.

Faudree, Paja
2009 Linguistic Anthropology in 2008: An Election-Cycle Guide. American Anthropologist 111(2):153-161.

Glass, Ira
2004 Fake Science: Stories of People Trying to Drag Science Where It Doesn’t Belong. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/265/fake-science, Accessed: 8/30/2014.

Godreau, Isar

2008 Slippery Semantics: Race Talk and Everyday Uses of Racial Terminology in Puerto Rico. Centro Journal XX(2):5-33.

Han, Sang-Ho
2005 The Birth of Writing. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/anthropology/view/work/1779548, Accessed: 9/01/2014.

Handwerker, W. Penn
2009 The Puzzle. In The Origin of Cultures: How Individual Choices Make Cultures Change. Pp. 15-35. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, Inc.

Harrison, Faye Venetia
1997 Ethnography as Politics. In Decolonizing Anthropology: Moving Further Toward an Anthropology of Liberation. Harrison, Faye Venetia, ed. Pp. 88-109: Association of Black Anthropologists, American Anthropological Association.

Jablonka, Eva, and Lamb, Marion J.

2005 The Behavioral Inheritance Systems. In Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life. Pp. 155-191. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Lan, Yang
2011 The Generation That’s Remaking China. http://www.ted.com/talks/yang_lan, Accessed: 8/14/14.

Lysicott, Jamila
2014 3 Ways to Speak English. http://www.ted.com/talks/jamila_lyiscott_3_ways_to_speak_english, Accessed: 9/2/2014.

Miner, Horace
1956 Body Ritual among the Nacirema. American Anthropologist 58(3):503-507.

National Congress of American Indians
2014 Proud to Be. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mR-tbOxlhvE, Accessed: 08/26/2014.

Omidian, Patricia
2009 Living and Working in a War Zone: An Aplied Anthropologist in Afghanistan. Practicing Anthropology: Spring 2009, Vol. 31, No. 2, pp. 4-11.

Pagel, Mark

2011 Mark Pagel: How Language Transformed Humanity. http://www.ted.com/talks/mark_pagel_how_language_transformed_humanity#t-536675, Accessed: 8/31/2014.

Richards, Sam
2014 A Radical Experiment In Empathy. Ted.Com. http://www.ted.com/talks/ sam_richards_a_radical_experiment_in_empathy, accessed September 7 , 2014.

Samanta, Suchitra
2014 Seeing Kali’s City As “Insiders”: Religious Diversity, Gender, Class, And Culture As “Textured” Learning For American Students. Practicing Anthropology 35(3): 23-27.

Schweitzer, Marjorie M.
2006 Gender Roles in Sociocultural and Historical Context. In Women in Anthropology: Autobiographical Narratives and Social History. Cattell, Maria G. and Scheweitzer, Marjorie M., eds. Pp. 41-56. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, Inc.

Wesch, Michael
2007 A Vision of Students Today. Online Video, http://mediatedcultures.net/videos/a-vision-of-students-today/, Accessed: July 30, 2014.

Williams, Brackette F.
2010 Forty Years Ago: Another Look at Centuries‐Long Hegemonic Practices. Transforming Anthropology 18(2):111-113.

Yang, Mayfair Mei-Hui
2007 Mass Media and Transnational Subjectivity in Shanghai: Notes on (Re)Cosmopolitanism in a Chinese Metropolis. In The Anthropology of Globalization: A Reader. Inda, Jonathan Xavier and Rosaldo, Renato, eds. Pp. 325-349: Wiley.

Advertisements

Rankism

The other day a renowned anthropologist told me I was not her colleague. Her reply came moments after I had told her that I defended my dissertation less than a month ago.

(Let that sink in)

This happened during a lunch where anthropology graduate students were sharing their feedback about our department with visiting faculty. The three anthropologists were there as reviewers of the program. A routine department evaluation apparently happens every couple of years. During the lunch, I shared concerns on the career and professional development of our department. I expressed regret given that aside from a few professors/advisors, the department as whole, is not preparing PhD students to be the faculty’s colleagues. As I sat on a faculty search committee last year, I didn’t see myself as competitive with the candidates we interviewed. The department replicates many structural barriers that privilege some students above others. To which she said “But you are not my colleague”.

In the past, I have expressed reticence about my future involvement in an academic setting. This incident served as the last drop in a serious of microagressions in the last seven years.

I got fed up. I’m not here for a white medical anthropologist to tell me that I am not her colleague; that I am not part of her club. Because this has happened one too many times and is too frequent for me to let it go. Like last year’s SfAA (Society for Applied Anthropology annual conference) where a White Anthropologist (badge from the conference and all) asked me if i was his taxi driver, despite me not being remotely in the vicinity of a yellow vehicle. I was merely existing in the lobby of the hotel.

I knew I wasn’t trained for the club. But this future colleague broke the fourth wall of academic double-speak that ‘encourages’ minorities to be part of the faculty’s ranks. Especially for a person of color like me who is a member of an underrepresented minority in higher education. A study last year showed that prospective graduate students–applying to graduate school–who were women and/or belonged to racial minorities received fewer email responses from faculty than White men in most disciplines. How discouraging is this?

What does it take to be a colleague then? My clue is that it lies in being a tenure track professor. Every other career path–although similar in nature in regards to research–is not the same. Even adjuncts, with similar work loads, are as liminal as some graduate students in the academic culture. I resist such rankism; it reeks of eurocentrism in western institutions.

So how do I keep decolonizing my experiences as a PhD recipient from a Research I university of the US? Because I still go back to the experience that spurred this post, and I think… what else? What else could an academic want from me? I jumped all the necessary hoops to receive the highest attainable degree in my discipline.

Still, my work should lie on important issues. I hope that my future career demonstrates a commitment to decolonize anthropology as well as to conduct applied research that matters.

Fieldwork and work…

As I sit here, with a cough and talking to my friend, I realize that at some point after I finish my degree, I need a break.

I need a break because things have been really hectic lately and I feel like, in small ways, my physical and mental health have not been where they should be. I don’t think I’m in a position to complain, because I’m still pretty healthy (overall) but I am worried about where this might take me.

In our conversation, my friend reminded me that what I’m doing is not what we are taught to do. Traditionally, anthropologists went alone and did research; away from their “home”. In my case, I’m doing research at “home” while also working as a graduate assistant. While this might be normal in a lot of disciplines, I don’t think my discipline prepared me to cope with it; anthropology pushed me to find funding and not do anything (work)  at “home” while conducting it.

I didn’t notice this issue earlier, because I’ve just been used to it for a while now. Also, funding has been scarce and I’ve simply been doing what I can to avoid paying the high cost of tuition and, most importantly, graduate. So far, my strategy of working as a GA on campus while also doing research is paying off; honestly, it was the best case scenario after continuously getting rejection emails for funding.

I also know that I’m not the only one in this situation. Other classmates are doing what they can to do their research and survive. I know some of us have more advantages than others, and somehow that’s ok. I’ve been working hard, and gone through a lot of challenges that have delayed my “dream graduation date”, but at least I have found funding through a graduate assistantship. But when will I get to enjoy one of those coveted grants?

I’m still engaged in discussions as to what resources are necessary for students like me: English as a second language, student of color, queer, etc. But I would also like to engage in discussions as to how the anthropology degree should adapt to the realities of funding nowadays.

Now, let me return to nursing myself back to health, ’cause my health needs me of late.

Passing, and my presence in the field…

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the laundromat. I’ve been going to this particular place to do my laundry, because it is in the community where I’m doing research, and is very close to where I live. This particular laundromat is frequented by Latinos in the area, among people of different ethnicities. Kids running around, TV’s blasting, and two barbershops/hair cuttery place add to the picture. Two very interesting things happened while I was there: I found a novel way to learn about my research, and learned that I pass as Latino.

First thing was that one of the TVs was showing a rerun of a case from the court show Caso Cerrado. The case presented was about a man suing his pregnant wife, because she did not want to get vaccinated against Influenza H1N1. The man brought his wife’s brother in law to back up his ‘suit’, against his wife and his sister in law. The outcome of the show is a bit irrelevant, insofar as it is not what I’m trying to focus on here. I thought that this particular episode was very interesting given that it involved a pregnant Latina woman, her husband, and her family; all vying to influence some sort of decision making in what can be regarded as prenatal care as it pertains to the wellbeing of this pregnant woman. Before today, I didn’t give much thought to see how media, like TV, can influence a particular group of people in an important topic such as prenatal care.

I say this because it is a show on a major Spanish speaking network, and watched by many (including my own abuela back home). I disagree with how the show talked about the topic, but the judge (host of the show) did a good job in bringing in different doctors, as well as experiences from different people on which to draw an opinion for her ruling.

The second major thing that happened, was that once again, I was spoken to in Spanish while I was there. In my head I was happy, because somehow, something about me was reflecting this internalized experience of being racialized as Latino; as someone who came from Puerto Rico; and speaks Spanish. I was glad that others saw how my outward identity very closely reflects my self identification. This is great news for my research in a sense, because it makes me less of a stranger.

But later on, I felt bad. I felt sick to my stomach, because I was celebrating the fact that I was Passing – “I’m passing! People talk to me in Spanish!!”…

The fact is that I am trigueño, have curly hair, and have some some sort of passing privilege because of it. I also have academic privilege, Puerto Rican privilege, and light skin privilege. I am trying to be always aware of my positions in the field and how I am perceived. So it’s bittersweet because I feel bad about the idea of me using the concept of passing to further the needs of my research. This will definitely be part of my dissertation.

Confronting race in anthropology

Anthropology has a rich history with regards to colonialism and race. The discipline has reflected extensively on how culture and biology interact, in order to arrive at the current knowledge of what race means today. The story of race, and how anthropology has addressed it, still needs work. With this short essay, I want to elucidate a potential alternative in addressing race holistically by tending to the concept of privilege.

“Check yo self before you wreck yo self.” – (Check yo self, Ice Cube 1993)

The social sciences are rich in theoretical approaches that look into privilege and intersectionality. While anthropology has borrowed these terms from its kin disciplines, it has not taken these theories and their respective examinations of privilege into its core, nor have anthropologists incorporated them into everyday academic lives. The same discipline that examines foreign elements, and places ethnocentrism as a core topic within its pedagogy, methodologies, and theories, does not engage race in more complex ways outside of this framework; to engage beyond ethnocentrism is to reflect on how participants are treated, as well as the treatment of our fellow anthropologists.

Privileged practices are the result of othering, and individuals do not need to acknowledge privilege’s systematic advantages to benefit from them. Privilege takes many forms. Yet, given the context and history of anthropology, I will focus on white privilege, as a way to elucidate this confrontation of race with the discipline.

Not much time is spent in classrooms discussing white privilege. We must ask, how do our white anthropology professors engage their own instances of privilege? Black Anthropologist Lynn Bolles’ recently published article dwells on the issues of reflexivity and white privilege in academia, and how black female anthropologists, and their contributions, are rendered invisible (2013). Her article suggests that white privilege (while taught in few instances) is not internalized by those who teach it; the privileged power relations are as pervasive in the home department as they might be in the fieldwork setting. Yet, non-anthropologists seem to ‘school’ us on the matter: Carperter-Song and Whitley (2013), while not anthropologists, used anthropological approaches to reflect on how power and privilege affect their research methods. Their collaboration with an HBCU, and an African-American research population, made them think about how their collaboration could address historically exclusive practices and groups. Theirs is just one example of the potential of our own methods to reflect on white privilege, and to account for the unequal biases in the research methods themselves.

The goal is to understand how privileged anthropology really is

Confronting race means that we need to strive towards an understanding of race as an objective, not as a discrete goal. There is not one discrete goal that achieves an understanding of race and how to address it. Institutions of higher learning struggle to balance and understand race by having discrete goals of diversity within their own ranks.

But anthropology is not engaging enough with the topics regarding race; not much is done beyond addressing the issues raised by those of us who are people of color (POC) and minorities. Confronting race must entail more than merely letting minorities and POC take care of ‘their’ issues of race, while white anthropologists see race as beyond their scope and expertise. White privilege, in this case, is seeing race outside of one’s topic of study, and implying whiteness as the default.

Race needs to be at the core of learning theoretical frameworks and methodology. As of now, race is a special topic to those who study non-whites; that’s when race is suddenly relevant. When the participants (or the researchers) are white, the issue of race is minimal or non-existent.

Confronting anthropology means white anthropologists should examine and be upfront about their privilege; minorities and people of color in anthropology have been vocal about these issues, and yet they must also acknowledge their academic privilege – which already happens in other theoretical frameworks within anthropology (Alcalde 2007; Narayan 1997; Zavella 1997). The work of anthropologists of color (including their participants as minorities) often confront race in more natural ways in the methodology and theory, since they do not take for granted their role in the process. Unfortunately, white privilege suggests and encourages anthropologists of color to be the sole voices representing their own race, as well as others minorities (Bolles 2013). Intersectionality needs to be more prevalent in our discipline, and we need to be more cognizant of it as as more of us do fieldwork ‘home’.

The classical definition of fieldwork has forced anthropologists to think in dichotomies that, by definition, exclude those that study their own ‘culture’; it puts unequal praise on those that study ‘others’ in ‘other’ places. Those who choose to examine their privilege and race, in addition to conducting research within their in-group, stand out too much; they attract too much attention to themselves, disturb the most senior members of the discipline, and create chaos and disorder (Weston 1997). The disturbances of intersectionality and the confrontation of racial issues have to be distanced from arguments that deem them as ‘being political’, since they greatly enrich theory and methods.

Conclusion

Accounting for privilege and race in one’s research must always be a component of the research process. In the same manner that anthropologists of color (and those who study their in-group) are considered part of the research process in such ‘disturbing’ ways that their presence must be accounted for in order to justify their findings, the same must be expected of white anthropologists to account for reflexivity.

“U.S. culture and society, (and) the efforts of decolonizing feminist anthropology, entails doing homework in every field of endeavor, particularly at home, in the office, and at the university” (Bolles 2013:69). Race as a social construct is pervasive enough in US society. Anthropology needs to check its privilege, because its present colorblindness does not foster growth in underrepresented minorities.

Race needs to be part of anthropology from the beginning of the training process, and throughout our careers, much in the same manner that ethnocentrism shapes our knowledge and methodology as an underlying concept in the discipline. Reconfiguring our approach from the beginning of our training, at the undergraduate level and throughout graduate school, has the potential to transform the intersection of race in anthropology. The topic of race, in its broad definition, needs to be re-appropriated so that it is not exclusively identified with politics and political correctness, but as a part of the examination of privilege of the (mostly) white discipline of anthropology in the US. Similarly to those institutional review board statements where we explain why our research is excluding minorities, women, and other understudied groups, we need to start asking anthropologists why their research is thought to be outside the scope of race.

References

Alcalde, M. Cristina.  2007. Going Home: A Feminist Anthropologist’s Reflections on Dilemmas of Power and Positionality in the Field. Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism 7(2):143-162.

Bolles, Lynn.  2013. Telling the Story Straight: Black Feminist Intellectual Thought in Anthropology. Transforming Anthropology 21(1):57-71.

Carpenter-Song, Elizabeth, and Whitley, Rob.  2013. Behind the Scenes of a Research and Training Collaboration: Power, Privilege, and the Hidden Transcript of Race. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry:1-19.

Narayan, Kirin.  1997. How Native Is a “Native” Anthropologist? In Situated Lives: Gender and Culture in Everyday Life. Lamphere, Louise, Ragoné, Helena, and Zavella, Patricia, eds. Pp. 23-41. New York: Routledge.

Zavella, Patricia.  1997 Feminist Insider Dilemmas. In Situated Lives: Gender and Culture in Everyday Life. Lamphere, Louise, Ragoné, Helena, and Zavella, Patricia, eds. Pp. 42-61. New York: Routledge

Ke$ha and Foucault are sleazy

I’m reading the first volume of the history of sexuality by Michel Foucault concurrently with a friend, as we’ve decided to book club it. As I’m reading on the plane, I am also listening to my iPod while doing so. I noticed a particular song transition, that is very common in my music library: it went from a french opera (is on the Marie Antoinette soundtrack) to a song from Ke$ha. If you don’t know Ke$ha, I’ll gladly post a video here to illustrate.

The particular song that came up, Sleazy, is an interesting one. Ke$ha as a phenomenon of the pop scene, is also a good example of a resurgence of a movement that plainly speaks of sexual exploits, nightlife and re-showing us the simplicity of non-glamorous-hollywood outings, that any of us ‘attend’ to on any given day. Sleazy is not about going to the hottest club, but more about being comfortable in your own skin with your friends; even when that level of comfortability means being crass, vulgar and in her own words: “scummy”.

More so, through the electronic dance genre that is nowadays more common in mainstream pop, the song proclaims the victory of a working class night out. It rejects the company of those that flash their presupposed upward mobility in bars/clubs. The bourgeoisie is called out and Ke$ha rejects any type of sexuality that is subjected to that discourse. The partygoer is on a selfish adventure in Ke$ha’s posse and her group of “girls” and her “boys” to get “sleazy”; something not so subtly extrapolated when the song onomatopoeically sexualizes the activity by saying:

“Rat tat tat tat on your dum dum drum
The beat so phat, gonna make me cum, um, um um, um
(Over to your place!)”

And we come back to now start a discussion on how Foucault described discoursal scenarios such as this one in regards to the how we are ‘conditioned’ to repress the level of sexual detail we are willing to accept before we condemn Ke$ha to being a slut. I expect to have more answers and a better understanding on the phenomenon that Ke$ha exemplifies as I keep on reading. In the meantime, I will keep being sleazy in much the same way Ke$ha celebrates.